The dark and mysterious back story of a truly great singer.
Biographer McDonough (Tammy Wynette: Tragic Country Queen, 2010, etc.) specializes in tough cases: his revelatory book Shakey (2002) began as an authorized biography of Neil Young until dogged reporting caused the authorization to be rescinded. Here, there was never an issue of cooperation since there was little chance that Green (b. 1946) would cooperate and even less chance that he would be happy with the results. While the book gives the singer his due as one of the soul giants—largely crediting producer Willie Mitchell with helping the singer find himself—it otherwise depicts him as eccentric and erratic at best, a heartless skinflint to most and perhaps even culpable in the death of a suicidal woman who was one of his countless lovers. Yet McDonough’s final verdict on his subject is that “his life had been so endlessly chaotic and strange” and that “Al remains inscrutable.” Amid astute criticism of the artist’s work, the author does his best to sustain a cohesive narrative and present a coherent subject. Yet the same artist who regularly cheated his musicians and collaborators also showed uncommon generosity toward a drummer who was down on his luck, and the man who seemed motivated by money and ego forsook his pop career for the pulpit after an epiphany at Disneyland. The whole process seems mysterious to McDonough and will likely to readers as well. Was this some sort of career move or a genuine spiritual conversion? How could a man of God continue to be so abusive to women? “You sound like everybody out on the street. I want to hear Al Green,” Mitchell once said to his developing singer, who replied, “I don’t know who Al Green is.”
The soul singer remains an enigma that not even this incisive biography can unravel.